Before The Sopranos, television looked a bit different than it is today. Premiering in 1999 on HBO, the show was a major hit and phenomenon for a variety of reasons. While it looked like a regular mafia show on the surface, The Sopranos dug deep, looking at its characters as regular human beings, which we could all relate to. It did it through memorable dialogue, exciting action, and profound themes, which can all be seen in some form in The Sopranos pilot script.
The Sopranos Pilot PDF Download
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WHO WROTE the sopranos SCRIPT?
Written by David Chase
David Chase is an American writer, producer, and director, most well known for creating The Sopranos. Having been born and raised in the New York-New Jersey area, he was able to use his personal knowledge when working on the show. While he has many writing credits, he only ever wrote and directed the first and last episodes: the "Pilot" and "Made in America." He has also done work on other shows earlier in his career, such as The Rockford Files, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Northern Exposure.
STRUCTURE OF THE SOPRANOS PILOT SCREENPLAY
The Sopranos pilot screenplay is very close to the final product, but there are a few differences, most notably Tony Soprano being named Tommy.
Here is the story structure for The Sopranos pilot screenplay:
Tommy Soprano (as he is named in the script) is a mob boss who is rising up in his family. While on the outside he lives a good life, with a wife, kids, and a group of loyal men working under him, all is not well deep down.
During his son Tommy Jr’s birthday party, Tommy collapses and later has to go to the hospital. It turns out he had a panic attack, something that strikes him as highly unusual. At the recommendation of his neighbor (who is also his physician), Tommy goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi.
Plot Point One
Tommy is now in therapy with Dr. Melfi, where he explains: there are problems brewing between his wife Carmela and their daughter Meadow (who wants to go to Aspen and Carmela won’t allow it). He has trouble with both his mother, Livia, and his uncle, Uncle Junior, who is also in the mob with him and resents Tommy’s rise.
Plot Point Two
In between family troubles, Tommy also has to deal with: a gambler who owes him money (he says he doesn’t have it), a waste management contract that they might lose to a competitor (a Czech mob crew), and the fact that Uncle Junior wants to kill someone at a restaurant owned by Tommy’s old friend Artie (Junior refuses to call off the hit).
Livia is adamant she doesn’t want to be put into a retirement home, but the Soprano family shows her one anyway. During the visit, Livia gets upset and Tommy finds himself having another panic attack. This results in him returning to Dr. Melfi for good, where he opens up further about his family problems and how they truly affect him.
Plot Point Three
Carmela and Meadow continue to have some tension, but eventually this is resolved. Meadow emerges the “victor” by deciding on her own to focus on school and not go to Aspen. Uncle Junior and Livia bond over their on-going frustration and possible hatred for Tommy, decrying his generation and how the two old timers feel neglected. Junior says something will have to be done about Tommy.
Plot Point Four
The gambler decides to help pay off his debt to the Soprano gang via fraudulent health insurance claims. Tommy’s “nephew” Christopher kills one of the Czech’s to keep their contract in the waste management business. And Tommy asks one of his top guys, Silvio, to burn down Artie’s restaurant. This would secure his reputation is secured and he can collect the insurance money.
Tommy Jr’s birthday party can finally happen, with everyone together and having a barbecue. However, Christopher feels neglected and has a talk with Tommy about how he wasn’t even thanked for taking care of the rival mob/waste management issue. Tommy has a stern talk with Chris and the two rejoin the party.
Sopranos Pilot Script Takeaway #1
Sopranos script dialogue
One of the things The Sopranos is extremely well-known for is its dialogue, and that’s on full display here in the pilot script. Some things are different from what we might be familiar with (like Tony being named Tommy). But most of it is very much in the finished product. And while plenty of the dialogue is enhanced when we see it played by the actors, David Chase’s Sopranos script still provides plenty of punch and memorable moments.
Like any good script, the descriptive text blends well with the dialogue, and even incorporates certain details, like underlining, to place stress and emphasis. We imported the script into StudioBinder's screenwriting software so we could get to the bottom of these elements.
Take the first meeting between Tommy and Melfi, where Tommy’s reluctance is on full display. Notice the underlining of “They” which cues us into that reluctance, along with his attempt to downplay his visit.
Here we get an idea of the show’s humor, such as Tommy saying he’s in waste management. But the comedy can also be more upfront or obvious, like after Tommy and Chris beat up Mahaffey, the health insurance gambler who owes them money. It serves as a good example of how the ignorance of some characters, mixed with misinterpretations, often lead to funny moments.
And while there is no shortage of comedic bits in the series as a whole, it has to be balanced out by more serious moments. Skipping to the end, we can see how dialogue plays a vital role in Tommy and Christopher’s confrontation. Christopher feels unseen and is considering other avenues; it’s up to Tommy, through intense dialogue, to remind him of his values and what matters.
We can see this scene playout in the following clip, where the intensity of James Gandolfini is on full display, along with the acting chops of Michael Imperioli. You can also see, when played out in the final product, how the moments of silence play into the scene’s unease and suspense.
From the first scenes to the last, dialogue plays an integral part in the world of The Sopranos, and that’s on full display in the pilot. But dialogue, whether comedic or serious, is just one element of what makes this Sopranos script and episode a classic.
Sopranos’ Pilot Script Takeaway #2
Action in the Sopranos script
Admittedly, The Sopranos is not known for being an action-heavy series. For example, there are next to no major shootouts or crazy action sequences. But this is precisely why the action moments in The Sopranos script are worth paying attention to. When a show as grounded and realistic as this one has a moment or two of action per episode, you absolutely pay attention.
The earliest and most involved action scene in The Sopranos’ Pilot is when Tommy and Chris locate Mahaffey and pursue him in a business complex. The script makes it very clear that this is THE PURSUIT, and it doesn’t waste time explaining what’s happening or how characters are reacting in the moment.
While it might be tempting to talk about the only other major action scene where Christopher kills a man, I think it’s more vital to point towards the scene where Tommy collapses.
While one major thing happens in this scene, the Sopranos script describes the moment in great detail. From Tommy witnessing the ducks flying away, to his description of how he felt, to the reaction of everyone around him. Chase wants the reader to understand how important this moment is.
Two different types of action scenes occur in this pilot, and each one serves a different purpose. While the first one is an enjoyable scene that might remind us of typical gangster fare, the second one focuses so intently on a single moment that has lasting consequences. On The Sopranos, action can be both an on-foot pursuit and a man having a panic attack.
Sopranos Pilot Script Takeaway #3
Sopranos script themes
The Sopranos is a dialogue-driven show with moments of comedy and action, but it’s the themes that made it a masterpiece of American television. While those themes are obviously explored and fleshed out throughout the series, they are made very apparent in the pilot.
In his first session with Melfi, Tommy describes how he felt the morning of his collapse. He describes a deep and depressing feeling of coming in at “the end,” meaning for him that, even with his relatively good life, “the best is over.”
We can see more of this scene and how it’s handled with a clip from the pilot. This clip also features a brief moment of Tommy/Tony interacting with the ducks that landed in his pool.
Later, after the collapse and second panic attack, Tommy goes to see Melfi. There, after some digging, Tommy realizes the main reason he collapsed the day of his son’s birthday party.
A quiet, two-person scene, we can see more of Gandolfini’s range when he has this realization with Melfi and he has to cry. It’s a tender moment that underscores the previous clip’s delusion of American living by bringing up the ever present fear of loss and legacy.
The Sopranos would continue to further explore its characters and themes in fascinating and complex ways, but The Sopranos’ pilot laid the groundwork. And it shows in these quiet moments of reflection, especially in Tommy’s therapy sessions with Melfi.
Read and download more scripts
From the dialogue to the action to the themes, The Sopranos’ Pilot is a concise but excellent slice of the phenomenon it would soon become. If you want to continue reading screenplays, we have similar titles like The Godfather, GoodFellas, and The Irishman in our screenplay database. Browse and download PDFs for all of our scripts as you read, write and practice your craft to become the next great screenwriter.